2023 Polynesian Football Hall of Fame ceremony held January 21, 2023 at the Polynesian Cultural Center
Last weekend the Polynesian Cultural Center welcomed their friends from the 2023 Polynesian Football Hall of Fame to once again present their annual induction ceremony at the doorway to the on-site Hall of Fame Museum. Once again, the ceremony was well attended, exciting, and very touching as each honoree were recognized for their contributions to the field of American football. A sport well represented and strengthened through Polynesian players who have shown courage, skill and a warriors heart in their quest to be the best they can be.
We are honored to share this experience with our readers!
To start off the 2023 Polynesian Football Hall of Fame ceremony, three of the mightiest fireknife dancers in the world were present to honor this year’s inductees and honorees. Two things that may surprise you is that they are a) women; and b) cousins. Accompanied by Tahitian drummers, 2019 Womens World Fireknife Dancer Jeri Galeai and her twin cousins, Aaliyah and Chandae Ava, provided a rousing display of fireknife mastery. It was the perfect start to the festivities.
As Master of Ceremonies, Sione Milford, manager of the Samoa Village at the Polynesian Cultural Center, shared “This is called a siva tau, a war dance. A lot of people don’t know, because they always think that the men are the warriors. But they don’t know that in Samoa … we have great (women) warriors, legends of them. In Samoa we do not mess around with the women!”
President Alfred Grace, CEO of the Polynesian Cultural Center then shared his welcome to the honorees and attendees. “Today we invite you to join us as one ʻOhana sharing Aloha.”
2022 Honors presented at the entrance to the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame
2-time Super Bowl Champion, Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Co-founder and class 2017 Inductee Ma’a Tanuvasa greeted the attendees. “Eleven years ago,” he shared, “the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame was established to honor Polynesia’s greatest football players, coaches, and contributors, as well as to support our youth.”
“Since its inception, the Hall of Fame as awarded more than $250,000 in college scholarships to young Polynesian men and women. We are also proud that several millions of dollars have been offered in football scholarships as a direct result of such programs as the Polynesian Bowl and the Hawaii Junior and Senior Showcase.”
“Annually hundreds of thousands of people throughout the word …visit our permanent home here at the Polynesian Cultural Center. It is here that we can share our culture, our storied football history with future generations.”
PFHoF Board member, Jessie Sapolu, introduced the honorees for this year’s ceremony. He began by sharing that ….“It is truly an honor to be here today as we enshrine three into the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame”.
Tuli Tuipulotu – 2022 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year
Tuli Tuipulotu was asked to share a few words. “Truly a blessing to be here, being around all of this Polynesian culture. I haven’t been around this much Polynesians since COVID started (applause and laughter). Truly the best to be around the culture and family and its truly best to be standing next to these greats that are here. Thank you to the Polynesian committee for having my family (here). We are having a great experience.”
Nico Iamaleava – 2022 Polynesian High School Football Player of the Year
“I am grateful for the opportunity of being a part of this historical event” Nico Iamaleava humbly stated. “I’m honored to “put on” for my coach and to represent Samoa and my family. I want to praise the Man Above for allowing me the support, strength and health for doing what I love. Thank you to the coaches and all involved for taking time from their families to make sure that this week is a success for me.”
“I got to play my last high school game with my family and friends here and I couldn’t ask for a better way to go out.”
Mike Iupati – Class of 2023 Inductee
Mike Iupati spoke with quiet dignity. “I just want to thank the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame committee. I want to thank the Polynesian Cultural Center. It’s an honor to be standing here with the greats (past and present honorees). I appreciate you guys. I want to thank my family and friends for being here, and I want to thank all of you guys for being here (pointing to the audience). You guys are the reason we’re here. I appreciate you.”
Harry Montague-Field – Class of 2023 Inductee
Jessie Saumoa shared that the late Harry Montague-Field was being honored for his great career throughout the early 1930s. “He was the first player being of Polynesian ancestry in the American Football League. He was the 1933 Pacific Coast All American Team, and was the winner of distinction for being the first (as far as we know) to win all pro honors in both (national football) leagues.”
Manti Te’o – Class of 2023 Inductee
The final award went to a local hero. Manti Te’o is a proud homeboy from Lāʻie. His words struck our hearts and moved us to tears.
He began by saying “I wanted to say a few words because ….this is my home. I was born and raised in this community. I was talking to President (Grace) before this event, and he brought up a memory of when I was little. My family used to live in the married student housing – TVA. He remembers the first time he heard my name was when my father was calling me to come home. For all Polynesian kids we all understood to have your father calling you was not a good thing. He could tell the type of conversation that it was by the speed that I ran through the halls at TVA. But its just a reminder that this is where I am from. This is my home. I’ve ran miles on these streets. I’ve done drills on the sand. I’ve caught fe’e in that water. I’ve dreamed here, and this a testament to all the young people. So all my young Polynesian – if you keep God first, and you honor your family, and you commit yourself to your craft, you will be here too. I want to recognize my entire family. Everybody knows me as Manti Te’o, but I’m also a Santiago. If you don’t know anything about the Santiago family, my grandfather, Louis Santiago, is one of the greatest players to ever play here. Him, Uncle Leo Reed, Uncle Junior Ah You, are looked at as the first to come out of this community…to start the part of the North Shore. And I’m just so grateful to carry on his legacy, his name.”
It’s amazing to me. When you listen to a Polynesian speak, they mention two important things – and that’s their faith in God and their love for their family. And if you look around society today, you look at the condition that we’re living in. You look at the condition we’re living in. Look at how people are interacting with each other, that they could use just a little bit more faith in God. That they could use just a little more bit of love for their family. I promise, if this society would exercise those two things, 99.9% of the problems we face wouldn’t be there.
So how do we get it out there? How do we fix it? How about we send the people who actually live it, that have been taught it since they were young, us Polynesians. We’re an inclusive people. We’re a people that love. We’re humble. We’ll give you the shirts off of our backs, the food off our table, to make sure that you’re okay.”
“And that’s what this world needs.”
“So to all of my young usos, and tokos and Polynesians that go out into this world – don’t be afraid to stand out. Don’t be afraid to lead. Cause this world needs leaders. So why not it be us?”
“I’m grateful. I’m humbled by this honor. To my family, I love you. You’re the reason why I did this whole thing. So when you see my last name up there, understand that there is a reason why it’s my last name and not my first. Because that will live on forever.”
Post event interviews – one of our best PFHoF events on record
President P. Alfred Grace, CEO/President of the Polynesian Cultural Center – Why is this so important to the Polynesian community?
The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame is really important to the Polynesian Cultural Center because really, football is becoming a part of our Polynesian culture. And what the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame recognizes is that this is becoming a part of our heritage. We’re delighted to be part and parcel of this wonderful event today.
Manti Te’o – How does it feel to come back to your hometown of Lāʻie?
It feels amazing to be home. It especially feels extra special that it’s in this place where I was born and raised. You know, I walked this campus since I was a little baby. Never in my wildest dreams would I anticipate this kind of honor. So for me to be here, to be in my home town, and to have that showcase up where young kids from my community can come and see that somebody from their community made it at the highest level is just an honor for me.
Mike Iupati – Do you have any advice for kids looking towards a professional career in football?
I just want to tell you all that hard work really pays off. Sacrifice your time now and it all pays off later.
Nico Lamaleava – How does it feel to achieve this distinction at a high school level?
It feels great to be honored in that way – taking home the MVP for our culture. I think just spreading our culture more and more as the game grows and as we grow as people, it’s putting our culture out there more and more on the map. I think we are getting recognized, and it feels good.
Reno Mahe, Board of Directors, Football Hall of Fame – What makes this event so distinctive?
I think what’s important about holding this event is, with any type of Hall of Fame enshrinement, the hardest part is ….. finding a place to hold it. Obviously, the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame was just the perfect fit (with the Polynesian Cultural Center). I think it was meant to be.
Bio of Nina S. Jones, Blogger for the Polynesian Culture Center
Nina Jones, a mainland gal from way back, is now a transplanted Islander. With her husband of 39 years, she volunteers at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Her hobbies include swimming, traveling, studying and writing about what she is learning from the various Polynesian cultures. Her blogs focus on their history, beliefs, practices and – as an added bonus – delicious food! To her, Polynesia is not just a place to visit, it is a way to live and she is very honored to be able to be a part of their amazing world.
I look forward to these every year, and I really appreciate what you’re doing for our polynesian athletes, old,and young. Thank you brother Jesse and Maa and your comittee. Malo fai o le faiva! Faafetai tele lava.